Rapport And The
Art of Clear Communication
We will see how people process information and
make sense out of things. In order to get people
to understand what you mean, you first need to
understand how they understand, or at least how
they try to understand. When you understand how
other people process information, you can organise
your communication in a way that fits their modes
of perception. We’ve still going to be talking
about pacing (and leading), but we’ll be
dealing mainly with less visible behaviour, that
which goes on inside other people. In the latter
part of this section, we’ll relate the information
about how people understand to one of the most
powerful techniques ever devised for mutual understanding
and clear communication. This is the technique
of active listening, pioneered in the early 1950’s
by Carl Rogers. We’ll then take a step beyond
active listening to probing for hidden meanings.
Understanding How Other People Understand
“Misunderstandings can result when people
automatically assume that others think as they
do.” — Robert Sommer, The Mind’s
Eye, p.67, 68, 69.
A way of looking at the different modes of perception
was suggested by Carl Jung. He placed thinking
and feeling at opposite ends of one axis and intuition
and sensation at opposite ends of a cross-axis.
He felt that everyone uses all four of these
modes, but that, for example, a person could be
typed by his or her using predominantly thinking
and sensation, and using less intuition and feeling.
In addition, Jung felt that a person could be
more introverted than extroverted, or vice versa.
One of the major uses Jung made of this model
of human character was to describe some differences
in the way women and men are trained to behave
Women- trained to act on intuition and feeling.
Men- trained to act on thinking and sensation
(using sensory data).
These differences can be very significant for
both personal and business relationships. Jung,
as well as many other leading thinkers today,
believed that a person can become whole by learning
to function in modes they are not trained to.
Again, having requiste variety and the range to
cover all modes of perception will help you establish
rapport more easily.
The feeling mode is the one most people in our
culture have most difficulty understanding. This,
no doubt, is a major reason why body and emotive
theories have become so popular in recent years.
We want to get back in touch with our bodies and
feelings, and it seems we need the help of professionals
to do so. Perhaps the cause of this is that as
children we were often punished for expressing
our feelings, especially when those feelings went
counter to the desires of our parents and other
adult authority figures. And for safety’s
sake, small children are often admonished to look
but don’t touch.
The fact that different people process information
in different modes is, of course, critically important.
Communication means different things to different
people. Couples go into counselling because of
communication problems arising from the differences
over what communication means. In a typical interview
the counsellor would ask what the problem is --
the wife may say that her husband doesn’t
listen to her whilst he may say she doesn’t
look at him when he talks to her. Or either may
feel that the other’s unfeeling or uncaring
because they’re not very affectionate or
emotionally responsive. When a mismatching of
perceptual modes is involved in the problem, the
counsellor would first make the couple aware of
what’s going on, to point out to them that
each is asking something alien for the other.
The next step might be to get each person to learn
to communicate in ways that are meaningful to
the other. In the case above, for example, the
counsellor might encourage the husband to pay
more attention to what the wife is saying. The
wife might be advised to establish eye contact
with her husband more frequently to show him that
she’s paying attention to him.
Seeing Is Believing,
Hearing Is Believing, Feeling Is Believing
Each of us has, at any one time, a dominant or
primary mode of perception. Bandler and Grinder
observed psychiatrist Erikson and therapists Satir
and Perl and referred to the three ways people
generally process information as representational
systems. They describe the process this way ;
When you make initial contact with a person, they
will probably be thinking in one of the three
main representational systems. Internally they
will be generating visual, images, having feelings,
or talking to themselves and hearing sounds.
How To Identify Perceptual Modes With NLP
One of the simplest ways to identify another person’s
dominant perceptual mode is to pay close attention
to the words, phrases, and images he uses.
VISUAL- words used, “I see what you mean,”
“This idea looks good to me,” “
I want the big picture……we’ll
focus on details later,” “ My point
of view is….,” and so on.
AUDITORY- words used, “ Tell me again….I’m
not sure I heard you right,” “That
sounds like a good idea,” “Let me
use you as a sounding board for an idea I have,”
“ Yes that’s clear as a bell,”
or, “Something just went click in my mind.”
FEELING- words used, “I sense what you mean,”
“That idea feels right,” “I
can’t get a handle on this concept,”
and “He’s the kind of guy who can
take an idea and run with it.”
Semantically, “That idea looks good,”
“That idea sounds good,” and “That
idea feels good,” all mean the same thing.
But psychologically they involve entirely different
processes. Identifying which mode is dominant
in other people at any given time is an important
key to their pattern of understanding, and is
therefore an important element both in understanding
them and getting them to understand you.
Another way to find out which perceptual mode
is preferred by another person is simply to ask,
“How would you like this information presented
to you?” people are usually aware enough
of their own process to give fairly accurate answers
to this question. Some people, for example, will
ask you to write it down for them (including graphs,
charts, or pictures). Whilst others will just
ask you to tell them what you want. Still, others
will tell you that they want to get a good feeling
for the situation and that it’s important
for them to know they can trust you (such individuals
may often say that they’d appreciate it
if you’d stay in touch with them).
How To Get Others To Understand You With NLP
When you use the other person’s dominant
perceptual mode, he or she will respond.
Sometimes it’s not readily apparent which
form of communication a person will respond to.
In such cases you may require using a trial and
error approach. For example, if you’re not
sure whether another person is responding to you
in a visual, auditory, or feeling mode, you might
pause periodically to ask, “Does this idea
look good to you?” or, “Can you see
yourself using this system?” or, “How
does this sound to you?” or, “Does
it answer some of the questions you have been
asking yourself?” or, “I’d like
to know: how you feel about this program?”
or, “Does this seem like something you can
If you don’t get a meaningful response to
the question presented in a visual mode, switch
to auditory and if there’s still no response
move to the feeling level. A frequent mistake
people make when they’re presenting ideas
to others is to interpret a lack of meaningful
responses as resistance, when in fact the other
person’s response may simply mean that you
have failed to communicate in a way that they
can make sense of. By having flexibility (requisite
variety) to switch from one perceptual mode to
another, you will be able to reach most people
most of the time, and they will clearly understand
what you want. This will enable you to get their
co-operation and support more easily.
NLP And Custom-Designed Word Pictures
Having correctly identified and made the necessary
connection to someone’s mode, you can then
proceed to more sophisticated use of perceptual
modes, that of perceptual overlap. The basic idea
is to heighten other people’s receptivity
to an idea by presenting it so that they can see,
hear and feel themselves experiencing the benefits
of the idea.
Perceptual overlapping allows you to custom-design
the word picture to fit the primary and secondary
perceptual modes of the person you are attempting
NLP And Active Listening For Building Rapport
We’ve seen how different people organise
their perceptions, in the visual, auditory, or
feeling modes and how to gain greater trust and
understanding by being aware of these differences
and then matching the other person’s dominant
An important strategy in effectively communicating
what you mean to another person and ensuring that
you understand what the other person means is
active listening. The term grew out of research
and practice in the 1940’s and 1950’s.
One of the best statements on this technique is
in an article by Carl Rogers, that appeared in
the Harvard Business Review in 1952, entitled
“Barriers and Gateways to Communication.”
Rogers identifies what he believes to be the major
barrier to effective communication: our tendency
to evaluate or judge the ideas of another person
The way to accomplish empathic understanding according
to Rogers, is by following this rule, “Each
person can speak up for himself only after he
has first restated the ideas and feelings of the
previous speaker accurately and to that speaker’s
To listen actively to another person means, then,
that you learn to see, hear, and feel in the same
way that he or she sees, hears, and feels. In
effect, it is another form of pacing, of establishing
rapport. We believe that active listening, as
described by Rogers, can be enhanced by pacing
some of the other behaviours mentioned in part
one. By pacing, or synchronising, your mood, body
language, speech rate, and even breathing with
the other person, you achieve strong rapport while
maximising mutual understanding. In addition,
by matching perceptual modes you further ensure
that you and the other person are communicating
on the same level.
Sometimes when you paraphrase what you think someone
has said, they will modify or clarify what was
actually intended. In other words, you might not
have misunderstood but, on hearing you restate
it, they will realise that they have left something
out. This statement summarises nicely the problems
of clear communication. “I know you think
you understood what you think I said, but I wonder
if you realise what I said is not what I meant.”
Clear communication can be difficult.
Probing With NLP For Hidden Messages
Active listening means listening emphatically
so that you share, insofar as possible, the other
person’s experience, so that you receive
his or her communication in precisely the way
it is intended. This is an extremely useful practice.
But there is a potential problem here, even if
you receive the speaker’s intended meaning,
because people are not always completely aware
of what they mean when they make statements. For
example in the statement, “I’m confused,”
the speaker is probably confused because they
are not aware of something that they want or need
to be conscious of. In this case active listening
is not likely to produce much more than mutual
Most people know that almost every sentence we
utter omits something either intentionally or
unintentionally. When someone speaks to us our
choice is either to guess at what is missing or
ask for clarification.
A question used to probe for hidden meanings is
“Why?” This useful question unearths
a wealth of information about another person.
But “Why?” can also be a potential
barrier to effective probing. When asked to justify
a certain action or behaviour, the form of the
question is usually, for example, “Why are
you so late?” or “Why did / didn’t
you do that?” such questions can be intimidating
and may generate defensiveness in another person.
Coupled with an accusing tone, they strongly convey
judgement and evaluation of a negative kind. One
limitation involves the structure of our language.
A “Why?” question can easily be answered
with the “Because….” construction.
Q: “Why are you confused?”
A: “Because I don’t understand.”
The answers would not give any additional information.
A more effective approach to probing for the unexpressed
or hidden is to ask “What” questions
(and it’s variations- Who, Which, when,
Where, and How)-asked in a non threatening tone
will usually produce a specific response:
Q: “What, specifically are you confused
A: “Well, I don’t quite understand
the exact relation between A and B.”
Note however that “Why?” questions
are not always inappropriate nor that “What?”
questions will always get you the specific information
you want. But “Why?” will frequently
result in generalisations, rationalisations, denials,
or justifications. “What?” questions
tend to produce specifics.
Person A: “I’ve made my decision and
Person B: “Why?”
A: “Because I said so!”
Now see the “What” approach-
A: “I’ve made my decision and it’s
B: “What could cause you to change your
mind?” or “Under what circumstances
might you change your mind?”
A: “Well, I might change my mind if ………”
Summary on Rapport and NLP
People organise their experiences in three perceptual
modes; the visual, the auditory, or the feeling.
Bandler and Grinder have observed in their work
with Erikson , that each of us has, at any one
time a dominant perceptual mode, or representational
system, to which the others are secondary. In
our culture, for most people most of the time,
the visual mode is primary. The expressions, “Seeing
is believing,” and, “I saw it with
my own eyes” are indicative of the importance
we attach to visually processed information.
Auditory mode; the next most frequently used mode,
a person attends to tonal qualities (sounds) of
the information being processed, or constructs
dialogues to organise his or her perceptions.
These dialogues may be silent, internal ones,
or they be uttered aloud. Often, people having
conversations with themselves are not consciously
aware of what they’re doing. In contrast
to the visualizer, who is creating mental pictures,
the person in an auditory mode is continually
talking to themselves.
Still other people tend to organize their perceptions
primarily around their feelings and sensations
in their responses to the world.
Everyone uses and has access to all these modes
regardless of what their bias is. What’s
important to note is that this phenomenon of (unconscious)
bias exists. As communicators, we can dramatically
increase the effectiveness of our communicators.
By using active listening techniques, you can
reach closer mutual understandings with others.
Active listening involves a reflection back to
other people of what you understand them to be
By combining active listening with an awareness
of perceptual modes and other pacing techniques,
you can help to ensure that you see, hear, and
feel what the other person is experiencing.
To move beyond active listening, to probe for
hidden meanings, it is necessary to ask questions.
“What?” questions produce more specific
responses than “why?” questions which
often result in defensiveness or generalisations.
Suggestions For Practice of NLP-Rapport Techniques
1) During conversations with clients, colleagues,
and friends and while listening to radio or television
pay attention to the words and phrases people
use to describe their experiences. Try to identify
their dominant perceptual modes.
2) Keep a notebook to jot down words and phrases
that indicate perceptual modes.
3) Practice using the same words and phrases as
others in your conversations with them. Vary this
practice by choosing different words while remaining
within the same perceptual mode.
4) In your conversations with others, practice
active listening. Reflect back to them your understanding
of what they’ve said or intended. Remain
in their dominant perceptual mode while doing
this. You might also pace some of their other
behaviours to strengthen the bond of rapport you
5) Whenever someone says something important that
you don’t fully understand, probe for hidden
meaning by asking “What?” questions.
Vary this by asking “Why?” questions
to determine the difference in responses.